Skip to Content


The “plumbers” were a covert White House Special Investigations Unit established during the presidency of Richard Nixon.

The group’s task was to stop the leaking of classified information to the media, hence the nickname “plumbers” as they were meant to plug leaks.

The creation of this unit came in response to significant leaks such as the Pentagon Papers, a secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam, which were published by The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1971.

The plumbers unit included several former CIA operatives and was led by two of Nixon’s top aides — also known a fixers — E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy.


The group operated outside the usual channels of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, raising serious questions about its legality and the ethics of its operations.

The plumbers were involved in a number of illegal activities, including breaking into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

Ellsberg was a military analyst who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press, and the plumbers were looking for information that could be used to discredit him. However, the break-in was not successful and resulted in a significant scandal.

The most notorious operation involving members of the plumbers was the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in June 1972.

This was part of a larger campaign of political spying and sabotage against the Democrats during the 1972 election.

The Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover-up led to investigations, indictments, and ultimately Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

The ethos of secrecy, disregard for legal boundaries, and political sabotage that characterized the plumbers’ operations was also at the heart of the Watergate scandal.

Time ranks the activities of Nixon’s plumbers as one of the top 10 abuses of power of all time.

Although Nixon denied knowledge of the plumbers activities, tapes subpoenaed during the Watergate investigation revealed years of political espionage and illegal surveillance.

Use of “Plumbers” in a sentence

  • The Nixon White House created the covert group known as the “plumbers” in an attempt to stop the leaking of classified information to the press.
  • The “plumbers” engaged in a number of illegal activities, including breaking into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in a bid to discredit him after he leaked the Pentagon Papers.
  • Although the “plumbers” were not directly responsible for the Watergate break-in, the scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation was steeped in the same ethos of secrecy and disregard for legal boundaries that characterized the group’s operations.